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Watchdog bans Natasha Richardson ski helmet ad

Email punt 'insensitive', ASA rules

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The Advertising Standards Authority has taken a dim view of an email announcing the death of actress Natasha Richardson which went on to offer great deals on ski helmets.

The offending missive, sent by skiwear4less.com, began: "We regret to inform you that British actress Natasha Richardson has died in hospital this morning, after suffering a head injury in a skiing accident in Mont Tremblant, Canada."

Having provided further details of the tragedy, the email continued: "We, as a company, strongly recommend the wearing of ski helmets by children and adults, in light of this and other tragedies. To encourage the wearing of ski helmets, we have reduced the prices of both kids & adults ski helmets and are offering FREE POSTAGE on all ski helmets."

The email also contained, the ASA notes, "a picture of Natasha Richardson and a number of ski helmets with prices".

The watchdog received two complaints from recipients of the email, who believed it "offensive, because it used the recent death of Natasha Richardson to sell the advertiser's ski helmets".

In its defence, skiwear4less.com stated the email "was a newsletter and not an ad" which "responded to recent current events in the same way as a newspaper, TV or radio". It further insisted that "informing... clients that a famous actress had died in tragic circumstances was not offensive, otherwise every newspaper and TV station would be an offensive medium".

In its adjudication, the ASA "acknowledged that advertisers were entitled to refer to current news stories in their ads, but noted the need for particular care how such stories were used, especially those involving a death, to avoid accusations of exploitation in order to sell goods".

It concluded that "reporting the actress [sic] death in such a manner, and in such detail, in order to sell ski helmets was likely to be seen as insensitive by recipients and was likely to cause serious offence to some".

Accordingly, the ASA ruled the email in breach of CAP Code clauses 5.1 and 5.2 (Decency) and 13.3 (Protection of privacy - deceased), and ordered it "must not be used again". ®

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